02 April 2018
New report reveals that the UK police are secretly downloading content from suspects' mobile phones on a massive scale
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For over six years police forces throughout the UK have secretly been deploying highly intrusive technology that allows them to gather vast amounts of data on individuals in the UK, including those convicted of no crime, witnesses and victims. Contracting with notorious companies such as Cellebrite, UK police forces are able to use sophisticated tools to take all data from your phone, including hidden and deleted data. This includes data about your friends, family and colleagues.
Privacy International have exposed a potentially unlawful regime operating with forces who are confused about the legal basis for the technology they are using. The police are acting without clear safeguards for the public, and no independent oversight to identify abuse and misuse of sensitive personal information. Seen in the light of ongoing issues of discrimination within the criminal justice system, this presents a serious cause for concern.
Data can be taken from victims, witnesses and suspects without informing them. With no clear policies or guidance on the use of this technology, individuals are unaware of their legal rights in terms of:
Key recommendations from our report:
Privacy International's report 'Digital Stop and Search includes eleven key recommendations including:
Millie Graham Wood, Solicitor, Privacy International, said:
"You could search a person, and their entire home, and never find anywhere near as much information as you could from searching their phone. Yet the police can take data from your phone without your consent, without your knowledge and without a warrant. It is disturbing that the police have such a highly draconian power, operating in secret, without any accountability to the public. Given the serious problems we still face in the UK with discriminatory policing, we need to urgently address how this new frontier of policing might be disproportionately and unfairly impacting on minority ethnic groups, political demonstrators, environmental activists and many other groups that can find themselves in the crosshairs of the police.
The police are continually failing to be transparent with the thousands of people whose phones they are secretly downloading data from. An immediate independent review into this practice should be initiated by the Home Office and College of Policing, with widespread consultation with the public, to find the right balance of powers for the police and protections for the public. Let's be clear - at the moment, the police have all the power and the public have no protections."
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham and author of the 2017 Lammy Review into the treatment of, and outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system, said of Privacy International's report:
"The lack of transparency around new policing tools such as mobile phone extraction is a serious cause for concern. There are no records, no statistics, no safeguards, no oversight and no clear statement of the rights that citizens have if their mobile phone is confiscated and searched by the police.
My Review of our criminal justice system found that individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds still face bias in parts of our justice system, and it is only because we have transparency and data collection for everything from stop and search incidents to crown court sentencing decisions that these disparities are revealed and we are able to hold those in power to account. Without the collection and audit of data about the use of mobile phone extraction powers scrutiny will be impossible.
Given the sensitive nature and wealth of information stored on our mobile phones there is significant risk of abuse and for conscious or unconscious bias to become a factor without independent scrutiny and in the absence of effective legal safeguards.
We entrust so much personal information to our phones that the police having the power to download every message and photo we have sent or received without any rights and protections is another worrying example of regulations not keeping up with advances in technology."
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